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Belgian composer and multi-instrumentalist Jonas Shepherd, real name Jonas De Houwer, shares
Magdalena, a debut full-length for Avian.
A collection of sonic vignettes that toe the line between Field Recording, Art Pop and Folk music, Magdalena charts an earthy and contoured path through those most human emotions of joy and absurdity, yearning and grief.
The record’s production spans two important touchpoints in the artist’s life – the death of his dog, and later his grandmother – after whom the album is named. Magdalena was recorded in Nieuwpoort, northern Belgium where De Houwer buried his 15 year old border-collie, Elliott, and finished later at home in Antwerp. In conversation on the subjects – De Houwer describes shepherding with Elliott in her formative years, an activity that permeates the album’s visual and sonic presentation. There’s a sense of the pastoral throughout the LP, a loamy warmth – but at the same time a latent discontent. Traditionally an image of knowledge and security – who guides the shepherd when he finds himself at a spiritual crossroads?
In its opening moments, Magdalena hinges on the relationship between piano, guitar and field recording. Across Undergrowth, I’m Veiled When I’m Wielding & Bumpkin Bunker, the artist showcases both his considerable talent for crafting moving works out of limited components – and the cinematic, neo-Folk intonation that will provide the backbone of the album. Glissando slides create a sense of intimacy between the listener and De Houwer and the DIY execution, ambient noise and delicate, oft-mournful chord changes recall Liz Harris’ Grouper project and the work of Dean Blunt.
With Forrest Flutes & Unhinged bbi, De Houwer shares his first vocal performances of the LP. On the former, crystalline synths buoy the work, and the artist’s autotuned utterances peak and trough while dissonant percussive hits signal shifts from one movement to the next. The latter, a loosely performed ballad uses repetition in the vocal parts to allow for gentle shifts in FX parameters to provide curious sonic filigrees.
Scuzzy alt-Rock rumination Nutropic provides one of the album’s more driving pieces – a more refined throwback to De Houwer’s involvement as a drummer in Belgian bands Millions of Them & Eat Lions. It’s a blissful, psychedelic cut with uncharacteristically realized drums that makes for a pleasing, palette-cleansing LP midpoint. As Magdalena progresses into its second half, woody drums underpin contemporary alt-Pop moment Aight Bet, with the artist offering a dissonant vocal performance. Choral, pitch-bent synths drive Eaott, while a faraway piano provides responses. Ambient segue Roblox Driveby feels like a curious inbetween zone, a 4th wall breakdown that invites the listener out of the highfalutin baroque and into a more personal space. Disembodied vocals gargle and pitch sporadically over fathoms-deep synths before the piece eventually fades into nothingness.
In its final moments, Magdalena rescinds its mournful outlook in favor of rousing optimism. Forlorn, the LP’s longest track by some margin, boasts great walls of sound, with synth crescendos rising and washing away to reveal softer, more intimate moments. Fake & Out of Phase provides the album’s finale, and we finish on a high. Soft in its execution, but no less emotive than its predecessor – there’s a sense of rebirth and the changing of the Seasons, a Spring-like embrace that closes Magdalena with poise.